“If Brands Don’t Adapt, They’re Going To Die”: An Interview With Tall Model, Ben James

“If Brands Don’t Adapt, They’re Going To Die”: An Interview With Tall Model, Ben James

If you’re a Taller guy who has been struggling to find the clothes to create the perfect look, we understand your pain. For too long now, the luxury fashion sector has been ignoring the demand for bigger clothes, and now the time has come for the industry to listen. 

One person who knows this more than anyone is Ben James. The Tall model and Tik Tok sensation, has had a turbulent journey on his way to finding his well-deserved success as a creative. After a battle with mental health problems, and an inspirational battle with weight loss, the 29-year-old is now fronting the battle in ensuring that the Big and Tall community gets the spotlight it deserves. 

But now, this ties into BODA’s latest shift towards tailoring for the masses. Our Tall collection is our answer to all of your questions. Offering from an XS up to 4XL, our Tall items add 2 inches onto the jacket and sleeve lengths - ensuring that you’re never left out, no matter your size.

The thing is, it’s been no secret that we have offered this size range for a while now, but right now we are hearing the demand louder than ever, so now it’s time for BODA to shout with you, to help nudge the rest of the slow fashion industry into following suit.

We sat down with Ben James to talk about all things growing up Big and Tall, fast vs slow fashion, retail vs e-com and much more...

BODA: So Ben, talk to us about life as a Tall guy, what have the last few years looked like for you?

Ben James: I’ve always been a big and tall guy, I’ve always had a bit of size to me. But, after a struggle with mental health and weight issues, I lost quite a bit of weight very quickly. When I found my new confidence, I got signed as a model which was totally alien to me at the time. In all honesty, it completely catapulted me. It went from being signed by a small-time agency, to working for big brands… I did Calvin Klein, Ted Baker, Jack & Jones, I did some big stuff. 

Then I moved to LA, and when I was over there, it gave me the chance to change up my style a bit. Over here in the UK, I didn’t really have a choice at one point. I had loads of ideas, I always loved fashion and aesthetic, but couldn’t access them. If it ever came to a point in LA where I met a big guy who dressed well, it would be because he was a designer and he was designing his own sh*t. 

So when I was in LA, that gave me the green light to start trying out new stuff like leather jackets and start playing around with the classical pieces. Especially now, I’m sort of the right shape and size to really experiment with what I want to wear. Since then, it’s just been a knock on effect. I’m still on my own personal journey with my body, but it’s just opened up a whole new world of fashion for me. That’s why I’m able to access guys like you. 

At one point, it wasn’t that straightforward. Making clothes for a guy my weight and size, it's not easy for a designer or brand to cater for. So making such a change with myself, it’s been nothing but positive as it’s allowed me to open up more creative elements in my mind and play around with different garments. That’s how we’ve got to where I’m at now!

When it comes to shopping as a Taller guy, do you think enough is being done in the fashion industry in order to cater for you?

Initially, when looking at clothes and brands, I look at it from a consumer's element and I’d think it’s unfair… But when I actually take a step back and put my business hat on, you realise that the luxury brands are not catering for the big and tall guys, it’s just bad business! These guys are

missing out on a huge market - they’re totally missing the point. For you guys to step in first, you’ll dominate early on. When you look at the average guy who is a big and tall bloke - I don’t know why - but for some reason, they tend to be higher earners than the average male. They’re either athletes who have made it pretty far, or they’re really successful in business, so they have more money on average!

It’s important, A - from a brand’s point of view for revenue and profit, and B - from a consumer's point of view, it’s about time that shit changed. Guys are getting bigger, if you don’t look at height numbers, look at guys like Steve Cook, he’s the epitome of what men are currently working towards and with the changes of how people are so knowledgeable with training and stuff, you’re getting younger guys who are 16/17/18 who are built like Steve. 

These kids want to look like him and dress like him… So if brands aren’t adapting, then they’re just going to die. Because people are changing, bigger guys are getting more confident and they’re wanting to experiment with what they’re wearing, I think it's the right time for brands to evolve. 

How was life for you living in the States?

I felt more at home in the States, I felt much more normal, I felt more blended in. I finally met people that dwarfed me, which is bazaar! I went to a lot of NBA games and met up with a lot of the players and some of them we 6’10, 7ft, which is an extreme but when you’re walking down the street, the way I was treated was different. The way I was looked at was different, the way I was treated within customer service was different when I went into retail stores, 

I didn’t feel alien, I felt normal. That was a big awakening for me, you get the mid-western, corn-fed, NFL player type guy, but that is truly a real example of what a lot of the guys are built like, so when I was out there… I just felt so normal.

What differences are there in the Tall modelling industry in both America, the UK and Europe?

I’ve been in this game, full time, for three years. So I have an absolute cross-comparison of modelling in both the American market and UK market. The Americans have more options… But they’re not as good, or fashionable, or as sexy as what the Europeans have. But that is typical of US vs European fashion: we’ve always been more stylish, more tailored, more finessed - a bit sexier. 

But, what America tries to cater for, is if you look at your typical American male, he is happy in basketball shorts, a t-shirt and some running trainers. Whereas we’re not as European’s, we like things a little bit more thought about. 

When it comes to retail shopping in the UK rather than e-com, how easy or difficult do you find it?

Shopping as a bigger guy in the UK and Europe is terrible. I did a campaign for a huge fashion brand in the UK which has since died.

I was the first ever big and tall guy - they put me on billboards, all over their ecom site… It was a big takeover. The next day, I went into the store to take a picture there, and they didn’t have my size! I was advertising their range and they didn’t even have my size… They just wanted to tick a box and that was it. They just wanted to appear that they were flying the flag but they never backed it. So to sum up my experience, I don’t even bother shopping. I go into retail for inspiration, then I go online to buy. 

What do brands gain from catering for your audience? How likely are consumers to come back?

So the next time I’m in the market - for example for the varsity jacket that you guys are doing - typically, I’m a normal shopper that will shop with a budget, now I know that you guys are doing a varsity, I will wait a little bit longer and invest in something that I know I’m going to end up having for life. These things look better with age, so why would I waste £60 on something from a high street store, which is fast fashion, or, alright, I’ll be paying 2/3/4 hundred, but I will have this jacket for life. So all in all, loyalty is what you’re getting.

What sector of the fashion industry is more present when it comes to catering for bigger guys… High Street or online and e-com?

High Street is definitely more present in catering for big and tall guys, but that’s just the presence of fast fashion… They can adapt, be super agile and their costs are next to nothing. But that may be down to the consumer's attitude. If they thought or knew that there were options in another market, they’d be more inclined to shop. Right now, if I picked up GQ or Esquire, I know 99% of the people in that magazine don’t even know that I exist. 

What do you think needs to be done in order for huge fashion corporations to recognise the bigger market in the way that they should?

We’re in a seasonally-allocated business, right? We’re in a trend-driven industry. We have swings and roundabouts every single year. Right now, let’s not forget that it was only 3 years ago that ecom and all high-end fashion was full of models with tattoos all over their faces, necks and arms… Now you won’t even see one. It used to be all high fades, tattoos, extreme work and now it’s like we don’t even want to be associated with them. So it’s like, are we going to see a peak in the big and tall thing? Yeah we will. But, that's only from a marketing and front-of-shop element. In terms of the actual market itself, that will never die. Those people always exist. I don’t choose to put tattoos on my skin, I can’t choose can’t choose to add an extra half a foot on my leg. If brands don’t want to talk about me, that’s fine, I still exist. As long as you’re still selling to me, it’s fine. You don’t have to talk about it, you have to cater for it. 

Does anyone come straight to mind when we ask you if you have a role model?

I truly struggle. I mean, there’s a lot of guys who are great guys and who are doing well and stuff, but they don’t have a bloody clue - and I’m not saying that I do! There’s one guy called David Fadd - his style is truly original, if you want to get inspiration from someone that knows how to dress a bigger body in a modern way, he's your guy. I think he's 6’5, 6’6 and a 4XL, he is like the front man of ASOS and Footlocker. He plays with colour a lot and Pop, he smashes it. But other than that, I don’t see anyone who’s really nailing in. But in the celebrity game, to be honest, the guys that are doing well are all athletes. 

Once you get over that 6’2/6’3 mark, you become known for your physicality and that’s it. It's rare that you get an actor that big, they don’t look that good on camera because you have a 5’4 actress and you guys don’t fit on the same screen. But yeah, Anthony Joshua is a great shout, but again, not very stylish. I would love to be able to find myself a real role model, but it’s tough.

In your opinion, what would you define as Big and Tall?

For me, if I was to put it on a piece of paper, I don’t know. I mean, you’ve got to be tall for one. Because so many guys that I see modelling big and tall ranges are 6’2… That’s not tall. Most mid-range models are 6’2… So they need to be 6’4, 6’5, 6’6 for me. They need to be a XL for me. If you’re a 6’2 guy and a 3 XL, I wouldn’t say you’re a big and tall guy, I’d just say you’re a big dude. 

You’re currently sitting in your brand new BODA SKINS Kay Michaels… Talk us through what you thought when you first received it, and your overall opinion - be honest! [laughs]

When I first received my BODA, my reservations were what I’d always have… it’s either going to be too short, or it's going to be too tight on my chest, shoulders, arms, generally I don’t struggle on the stomach or midline area, but when I first saw it, I thought, this is never going to fit. But when I actually put it on, it just fit like a glove. All of the areas that I was worried about, it fitted perfectly, not an inch different… Immaculate.

I mean, you saw the video I put on TikTok - it was a very genuine video. This jacket has been a massive confidence booster. Since having it, my confidence in real life has gotten better. It’s like there’s been approval from a really cool brand that has said that I’m a part of the club. It’s made me feel cool, it’s made me feel sexy. It genuinely touched me and made me feel really good about myself. That’s the power of good tailoring and getting it right. You genuinely improve somebody’s confidence and feeling of self-worth by giving them options that make them feel like they’re a part of the club. 

Finally, what advice would you give to fellow guys like yourself who want to experiment more with fashion, and who may be too shy to do so.

The advice for the consumer is to be confident and feel brave. Really commit to your decisions to buy something… Ignore your preempted decisions to not buy something in the past. When I look at clothes, like I did with this Kay Michaels, I looked at it and thought that it was never going to fit me, but when I did, it changed my whole perception. So just do it and commit. Also, measure yourself, know your own body.

Don’t let your emotions and your fears tell you what your body is. Let the numbers do the talking. You might actually find that you’re shaped differently than what you thought you were and more often than not it’s a more positive result than what you were expecting. 

As a brand, I would say, any sort of educational pieces you can give to your consumer. Because obviously, financially it's a big step and emotionally it's a big risk. The biggest challenge for you to solve for the consumer is making sure that you let them know exactly how it fits. Use guys that look like the consumer as well, the whole “it looks good on him, so it will look good on me,” goes a really long way. Just be a bit more active in who you’re using - people will have different shapes of body that attract a different type of consumer.

Be sure to follow James on Instagram at @ben_jjames and check out his TikTok for all the Big and Tall styling and fitness advice on @ben_jjames too.